AmericanaFest 2023 Day 1
A friend asked me if AmericanaFest is like Christmas for me, and I replied, “Yes, and Tuesday is Christmas Eve.” The first night of Nashville’s salute to the best of indie country, folk and everything else under the Americana umbrella is a combination of industry parties and tapas-type shows where you get a little taste of everything. Here’s some of the best of Night One:
Concord Americana from All Sides: In conjunction with Rounder Records and hosted by Shooter Jennings, this event at The Optimist (a seafood-focused restaurant and performance space) featured some of the best on-the-cusp artists in Americana. John R. Miller started off the evening. Accompanied by fiddle player Chloe Edmonstone, the West Virginian played songs from his upcoming album Heat Comes Down, including the haunting “Harpers Ferry Moon.” Nat Myers, armed only with a resonator guitar, was up next, and the Korean American’s set included his song “Yellow Peril,” a deceptively uptempo tune about the wildly misplaced blame set upon Asian Americans during and after COVID – “Just wanna have a little fun before we die/There never ever was no difference ‘tween you and I.”
Next up was the Canadian portion of the slate. Bahamas (nee Afie Jurvanen), came fresh in from Newfoundland (ironically, as he noted, to dine on lobster rolls in Tennessee). The songwriter/guitarist played it solo while featuring songs from his very country-ish new album, Bootcut, as well as diving back to his recent past with the twangy “Half Your Love.” Bella White – one of my must-sees in this year’s festival (see below) – was up next. Her full band accompanied her on tracks from this year’s best country record, Among Other Things, but it’s her voice – a 23-year-old who feels like she’s been around for a century – that brings those sad songs home.
Americana Proud: A Voice for All (Late Show): AmericanaFest, like life itself, is all about choices. Even though Katie Pruitt and Sarah Jarosz were still to come at the Concord event, Americana Proud at City Winery was a two-show, one-night event that I definitely wanted to catch a part of. Hosted by singer-songwriter Autumn Nicholas and drag artist Vidalia Anne Gentry hosted this event highlighting the wealth of LGBTQIA+ talent in the Americana world. Even in the more hushed, candlelit environment of City Winery, this wire-and-fire, two-songs-each event had a joyous feel, even with all of the pain expressed in many of the songs.
My main, individual drive for seeing this event was Jobi Riccio. The Morrison, Colorado native is absolutely having a moment, thanks to her powerful voice and an excellent new album, Whiplash, featuring the gorgeous tearjerker “For Me It’s You.” Predictably, her brief appearance was spellbinding, and I can’t wait for her showcase at Exit/In later this week.
The other thing about AmericanaFest – even as you’re checking off musts, you’re adding new ones, and that’s the case with Abby Posner. Fronting a three-piece band, Posner was the best guitar player I saw all night (and in this town during this particular night, that ain’t nothin’). The event also featured sparkling two-offs from ISMAY, Jett Holden, Kentucky Gentlemen, Lila Blue, Madeleine Kelson and Palmyra, plus an appearance from another of my favorites, Jessye Desilva (their Renovations is one of this year’s most vulnerable records). During his mini-set, they remarked that, “Queer joy is a really powerful thing.” The stories shared by these folks were equally powerful, and they deserve to be heard.
For my full preview and list of must-sees at this year’s AmericanaFest, go here:
Check out the festival website here: https://americanamusic.org/about-americanafest